Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Shakespeare: a Magical Realist

I just wrapped up my first season of the learned league. I finished 11 in Rundle R. My record was not great, but good enough to move up to Rundle B.

One quiz had the following Shakespeare related question: 'Ghosts appear onstage in four of the major works of William Shakespeare. Name two of the four.' HAMLET, JULIUS CAESAR, MACBETH, RICHARD III

My thought process for this was something like:

Macbeth. There are ghosts in Macbeth, right? Lady Macbeth sleep walks and goes through that whole, out out damn spot speech. Does she see a ghost? Ok well maybe she does not see a ghosts. There are those witches in Macbeth - they are kind of like ghosts....'

Hamlet. Hamlet sees his dead father, right. Is this a ghost or is Hamlet going insane - I don't remember. How about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? They die and are ghosts in that Tom Stoppard play.

Then my mind wanders the Tempest, I've never actually read that play, but I've heard enough to write a good High School English paper about it. Isn't Caliban a sorcerer? He is some sort of creepy creature? A ghost? I don't think so, but some sort of hybrid creature. Are there any ghosts in the histories? How can there be, they are historical right? (But they have ghosts on stage.) How about those nymphs in A Midsummers Night Dream, any ghosts?

In lots of Shakespeare plays, there may not be ghosts, but there are other magical elements.
Shakespeare was a magical realist!!!

I was surprised at this (obvious perhaps) revelation. The plays are so engrossing that I was did not register these bizarre magical elements (unlike in contemporary fiction where there is a self-conscious nod-nod wink-wink with respect to magical realism). Witches in Scotland, of course! Ghosts in Denmark, it's not really a ghost, just a hallucination - even if it appears on stage. Contemporary magical realism seems to be an escape from the mechanization and demystification of our world. Science has given us a label for everything, but that label is not enough, it has a one dimensional meaning. So, we reject the science and the label for a more layered/mythological magical realist story.

Shakespeare rides the line between the real world and the magical world or the irrational world and we are never quite sure which world we are in - the magical world seems real, and the real world seem magical.

Seek ye the Gnarl!, in the words of Rudy Rucker.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Free Jazz: The good, the bad, and the ugly.

After years of listening to NPR advertise for Bang on a Can, I finally attended with my Kiwi friend Chris.

We both left our more tonally inclined spouses to catch Bassist Henry Grimes performing with drummer Andrew Cyrille.
I really enjoyed this performance and I will tell you why:
- The exhilaration of the performers improvisation gave an immediacy and energy to the piece that transfered over to the crowd.
- I could just let my ears relax and listen, without looking for some overarching meaning
- My ears and eyes were rewarded by new sounds and techniques that I had never seen or heard before.

My feeling about atonal music is that it breaks you from the sort of generic listening pattern, and forces you to listen afresh and new. It sort of stops out your conscious mind from categorizing and rationalizing what your sensory organs are absorbing.

So What happens next? Does this music become a pattern in your ear from which you need to be reawakened, or can you go back to listening to more traditionally melodic music. Is this music an end in itself, or a tool? I don't know, but I find it exciting, in a visceral way, like my ears don't know what to expect next. I also feel liberated from having to focus on each individual note, I can just ride on the flow of the piece and see where it goes.